Krishnamurti has often spoken about all our schools being one. It seems to me that it is to keep a sense of this alive that the Teachers' Conference of Krishnamurti Foundation Schools is organized yearly, in one or the other of the schools in India. The guiding theme for the conference this year - hosted at The School, Chennai, from 26th to 29th October - was Learning to be a Teacher.
The conference began with Ahalya Chari, Kabir Jaitirtha and Professor P Krishna speaking on the topic 'Ten years From Now'. They emphasized that at the heart of the creation of all these schools was the revolutionary spirit that endeavoured to discover a way of living which would be unfragmented, unconditioned, which had a sense of great energy and passion. The world is changing so rapidly that it is impossible to predict what it will be like ten years from now. But it is certain that what the schools are like ten years from now will be determined by the kind of intensity of watchfulness and commitment to central intentions, which we bring now, as educators and as people working together. The dangers ofbecoming merely progressive schools concerned primarily with the imparting of knowledge and skills required for successful careers was pointed out. We were reminded of the need for schools to learn to function in society, not as isolated communities, and yet not becoming part of it, not succumbing to the enormous pressures that it can subtly bring to bear.
What K has to say on education represents an important movement in the history of schooling, and the conference also creates a context to meet people who are attempting to explore and understand this philosophy and its relevance in our daily transactional life as teachers and colleagues.
In one particular session we were all divided into four groups and each group had a teacher who would actually conduct a class and try at the same time to keep observation and attention at the centre of the teaching-learning process. It was interesting to see what a struggle it was to maintain this dual brief. Some perceptions and questions emerged, from the large group discussion that followed: 'Pay attention now!' is usually a demand to concentrate and to fragment. How can one actually create an atmosphere where one remains open and yet aware of the task at hand? Is it necessary for every child toattend all the time, in the same way, to a given topic? Given shorter and shorterattention spans, must teachers becomeentertainers to hold the interest of theirstudents?
Another session examined modes, methodologies and strategies in the classroom. Small groups discussed these in the light of various concerns that we hold as teachers. How does one account for differing learning styles? What does facilitatinglearning at the child's own pace entail? How can the growth of student initiative become central to the actual functioning of the classroom? What does it mean to start from where the student actually is? What, other than test performance, are the indicators of the quality of the teaching-learning process? How does a teacher create an atmosphere that is sensitive to the movements of the mind? With briefs that were in themselves wide but clearly defined, there was space to grapple with issues of curriculum design, structuring of the classroom, the teacher's role, assumptions we hold about quality teaching, assumptions about hierarchies of the mind and capacities of children and so on.
In what ways do teachers change and grow in the years they spend in the schools? In what ways do their concerns and preoccupations, and the challenges they face, change? An interesting feature of the conference was the session 'Teacher in the School', where teachers met in three groups which were demarcated by the duration of stay in the school. There were separate discussion groups for new teachers, for teachers who have been in the schools for between three to eight years and for those who have spent more than eight years in the schools. The first two groups were moderated by people who had spent several years working in the schools.
The new teachers felt that the absence of clear 'rules', and do's and don'ts can be perplexing, though there is a lot of space for exploration and initiative. While understanding the necessity for an atmosphere that is free of fear, many spoke of the difficulties in holding boundaries for students. By and large new teachers experienced a lack of clarity about what was expected of them. They also felt the need to locate themselves vis-a-vis the intentions of the school.
The second group felt, by and large, that working together and communicating with each other was the greatest challenge. Teachers spoke poignantly of the struggle involved directly in relating honestly with one another, of the need to hold opinions lightly and to engage with personality issues. One speaker stated poignantly that in many situations one runs up against the fact that the commitment to look and enquire has to be unilateral. One can invite others to a dialogue but to expect a commonality only alienates and makes one judge others. Many felt that it is in this period that one comes upon the chasm between the intention and practice in oneself: 'What I teach is what I know but what I educate is what I am'. The pressure of parents working at cross purposes was also felt.
The discussion in the last group touched upon how we need to perceive, orient and account for the population of teachers who come and go, which is a reality in all the schools. How does one help the school meet rapid changes in society? What are the schools for and for whom? Many seemed to feel that there is a tendency for the energy of individuals as well as the institution to get absorbed in the world of activities.
Another format was a large group meeting, where chosen speakers, forming an inner circle, took up the topic of 'Situations Encountered in Schools and Responses', followed by an open session. This session was designed to address how problems emerge, the paradigms of functioning that they reveal, and the learning opportunities that they create. However, in this session the speakers seemed to focus on their individual styles and philosophies of addressing problems and a clear thread was difficult to find.
An exciting aspect of K's vision of a school is that it is a place where adults work together not only, in the day-to-day functioning, but also in forging a common direction that is not born of reaction or collusion. An interesting exercise was set up in the session titled 'WorkingTogether' . Small groups of teachers were required to find the most important thing that was absolutely essential for a student of the Krishnamurti school to learn. Each group had to simultaneously observe how it was actually working together in accomplishing its task. All the classic stances and confusions that prevent movement emerged. The tugs and prescription, polarization, hierarchy, diffidence, self-absorption, etc. could all be vividly felt. The groups thus made a conscious struggle to carry people along, but it was not surprising to find that only one group actually completed its task.
The schools do not exist in a vacuum. Though human consciousness continues to suffer from the same ills born of fragmentation, we need to take into account the exact flavour and the complexities of the time and age we live in. Three sessions grappled with issues in this area.
'Understanding How Children Grow Up' was a panel discussion that attempted to address children's relationship with sexuality in an increasingly permissive and sexually exploitative world. The strategy adopted by the anchor-person was to delineate a difficult situation and to ask each panelist how he or she would respond to it. After this the discussion was opened to the larger group. We found ourselves grappling with issues of morality, gender roles, the inability of adults to dignify their own sexuality, the dilemmas that institutions and individuals encounter in dealing with the issues of exploitation and adolescent sexuality. The role of the media and the need to understand its influence was discussed. It seemed imperative that parents and teachers acquire clarity in this area, if the children under our care are to grow up in a safe and wholesome manner.
The place of the arts in our curriculum was examined by a panel of art teachers in the session: 'Revitalizing the aesthetic and intuitive aspects of a human being'. This was a felt-need in the context of a society which often defines school 'success' in terms of scholastic achievement in the disciplines that are geared to the job market. The panel also expressed the concern that curricula tend to focus on skills and information that can be evaluated easily. The audience were invited to reflect upon the following questions: How does one address the flowering of the aesthetic sensibility of a child? How can the integration of body, mind and emotion be facilitated? What are the other kinds of experiences we caQcreate which could help the emergence of an inner poise and a mind that is whole and responsive?
Given that we live in India, a country of diverse and rich vernacular languages and given the fact that English is, among other things, also the language of the upwardly mobile, the place of the vernacular language in our schools is a very vexed issue. The problems and possibilities of teaching the Indian languages were discussed by a panel of teachers. Beyond the issue of how to enthuse children to learn the second language lies the fact that each language contains in itself a unique experience of the world. How to draw upon this rich storehouse of cultural experiences within our 'English-medium' schools was a central question we were left with..
'Pot Pourri' was a session where schools made short presentations on a wide range of possibilities, policies and programmes that have evolved in their schools, from admission procedures to the do's and don'ts of school trips.
To conclude, one might add that meeting, interacting and exchanging notes with teachers from other schools, especially those engaged with the same age group or the same subjects, is always an exciting prospect. The four days we spent together allowed many opportunities for such informal meetings and this was not one of the least benefits of the teachers' conference.